In 1974, President Gerald Ford signed the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, commonly known as FERPA, into law. This law, administered by the U.S. Department of Education, applies to all schools that receive public money. Parents (custodial and non-custodial) have the right to access their children’s educational records, seek to amend records for accuracy, consent to disclosure of personally identifiable information, and file complaints with the Department of Education.
If a parent requests access to a child’s educational record, schools have 45 days in which to comply with the request. Educational records include cumulative folders, special education records, disciplinary reports – basically, any written record that contains specific information about a student.
Parents can dispute the accuracy of an educational record and request that the record be amended. If the school disagrees and the parents do not prevail at a hearing, the parents have the right to include their version of the facts in the official educational record.
Schools must obtain written permission from parents before disclosing personally identifiable information to any outside party. There are exceptions to this rule, and the exceptions must be explained in an annual notice to parents. They include:
- Disclosure to a school official with a legitimate educational interest. For example, a speech pathologist at the school who is going to evaluate a child can look at that child’s educational record.
- Transfer of school records to a new school. If a family moves, the child’s educational records are sent to the new school without written permission.
- Directory information. This includes name, address, date of birth, and other information that is not considered a breach of privacy. The annual notice to parents should give parents an opportunity to opt out of disclosure of directory information for their child.
Parents may lodge complaints with the U.S. Department of Education. Complaints must be timely (within 180 days) and specific, and must directly relate to a child’s educational records.
This is a quick and dirty summary of FERPA as it applies to students in K-12 schools that receive public money. The law also applies to most colleges and universities, although the rights transfer to the student rather than remaining with the parent. Those who are interested in more specific details can find them on the Department of Education website.